Best Safari Destinations
by Eric Mack
Going on a safari is a classic bucket list adventure, but scoping out some of the most majestic and ferocious creatures in the world takes a little bit of preparation to make sure it’s done right. Nothing could be worse than making the long trip to Africa only to wind up disappointed, uncomfortable, or eaten by a pride of lions (kidding… for the most part).
To get you started, here at TripTogether we’ve rounded up key details on five of the best safari destinations on the African continent, and one, believe it or not, in the U.S.A (for those who can’t make the trip around the world just yet). Check them out and start planning to hit one of them as soon as you can hop on a jet, or consider combining them all into one grand adventure of a lifetime!
Few words are as synonymous with the traditional safari as the majestic Serengeti National Park and adjacent Ngorongoro Conservation Area. The possibilities for adventure in this corner of the world are simply too abundant to list here, but highlights include: the potential to see all of Africa’s “big five” animals in a single day, witnessing the massive annual migration of wildebeests, zebra and antelope (that number in the millions), watching predators like lions and crocodiles stalk their prey, and even the ability to go on safari from above via a hot air balloon.
The park is also home to threatened and endangered species, including the black rhinoceros, elephants, wild dogs and cheetahs.
All these sights are just enough to fit into a single trip, but Tanzania has plenty more to offer! Africa’s tallest mountain, Kilimanjaro, also beckons from just down the road, along with the Kenyan border. If beach time is more your speed for a side-trip, the island of Zanzibar’s renowned white sands beaches are just off the Tanzanian coast.
Where to stay: If you’re sparing no expense, the Four Seasons Safari Lodge is a top choice, while The Serengeti Simba is more mid-range. There are also nine public campsites that cater to budget travelers, the best of which are Pimbi and Nyani— both equipped with kitchens, showers and solar lighting.
When to visit: June and July are the absolute best months to visit if you’re hoping to catch the wildebeest migration during the dry season.
On the other side of the Serengeti’s epic annual wildebeest and zebra migration is Kenya’s Maasai Mara National Reserve, but it’s just one of many safari destinations in this storied country. Twenty parks and reserves offer the chance to see not just the big animals you expect from a trip here, but also legendary scenery, like Mt. Kilimanjaro towering over elephants and other massive mammals in the background. No matter what aspect of wildlife intrigues you most, odds are that Kenya provides a way to engage with and learn all about it.
Kenya has a well-developed tourism industry that caters to most needs with excellent service and amenities. There’s even an opportunity to visit Nairobi National Park and experience the incongruous sight of giraffes and rhinoceros grazing in their natural habitat with skyscrapers as the backdrop.
Like its neighbor Tanzania, Kenya also offers ample opportunities to tack on world class beach time on the coast near Mombasa. This is all to say nothing of the rich cultural experiences offered through countless museums, tours, and opportunities to interact with local artisans throughout the country.
Where to stay: The Porini Mara Camp offers one of the best ways to comfortably experience the Maasai Mara in luxury. The Sosian Game Ranch in the northern part of the country offers a more remote but more affordable trip, and Mawe resort has budget rooms on the beach, but not far from the huge Tsavo National Park.
When to visit: Avoid the rainy months of March through May, but all other times of year offer great wildlife viewing!
Gorilla Trekking (Uganda or Rwanda)
It may seem strange to see nations with such recent turbulent histories on a list of vacation destinations. These countries may require an extra bit of patience and flexibility when it comes to dealing with their young and developing tourism industries, but your patience will be rewarded with the chance to get a glimpse of the endangered mountain gorillas. Uganda’s aptly-named Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is home to almost half of the world’s population of this impressive ape, while another near half can be found in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park.
While the parks limit the amount of time you can spend tracking the gorillas through their dense forest homes, keep in mind that this practice bodes well for their future and there is plenty more to see! In Uganda, you can also head north to track chimpanzees in Kibale National Forest, and add a savannah safari and a boat trip to your itinerary when you visit Queen Elizabeth and Murchison Falls National Parks. In Rwanda, on the other hand, you might get lucky and see the endangered and rare golden monkey – a unique experience for any wildlife explorer. Furthermore, both Uganda and Rwanda are remarkable birdwatching destination.
Where to stay: For Uganda-bound safari explorers, the Bunyonyi Overland Resort offers camping and cottages for budget travelers. Other options include: the Silverback Lodge which has mid-range accommodations, and the Sanctuary Gorilla Forest Camp which offers a more luxurious experience without losing the “rustic wilderness” feel of the trip.
In Rwanda, the Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge is a top luxury choice. Le Bambou Gorilla Lodge is recommended for the mid-range travelers, and Red Rocks Rwanda is a cheap but well-regarded guesthouse and campsite.
When to visit: Dry seasons are usually the best time to visit this region. To avoid the rain and slippery conditions, plan a trip for either June through August or January and February.
If you want to avoid the relative crowds, slick marketing, and package tours popularly seen in Kenya and Tanzania, look no further than Botswana. You may pay a premium for the low-impact, low-density, eco-friendly, wildlife-viewing experience offered here— but you’ll be comforted in the knowledge that you’re leaving less of a mark on the land while traveling through a unique combination of desert, wetland and savannah that remain mostly undeveloped for animals to roam freely.
The lush Okavango delta, filled with mind-blowing bird populations, can be explored during the dry season via canoe. Kalahari Desert safaris offer the opportunity to see the wilderness in its most natural state. Here you may experience a wildebeest and zebra migration, spot large herds of elephants, or see roaming leopards and wild dogs, all of which call this largely untouched land home. A side trip to Victoria Falls in either Zambia or Zimbabwe rounds out a truly unrivaled safari experience… if you’re willing to pay for it.
Where to stay: For luxury, Sanctuary Retreats runs a handful of lodges across the country to pamper you, while the Dinaka Safari Lodge is centrally located in the Kalahari and provides a good mid-range base for a visit. Backpackers may prefer options like the “Old Bridge” in Maun, which offers access to the wild on a budget.
When to visit: June through August offers the all-around best chance to experience everything that the country has to offer (while avoiding the rainy season).
If you’re game for a safari adventure but don’t want to venture that far afield, South Africa offers an attractive alternative. The country is easily accessible with plenty of international flights, cosmopolitan cities, modern amenities, but still offers the opportunity to see the “big five” animals. South Africa is also one safari destination that offers you the rare instance where you might be comfortable enough to actually drive yourself on a safari.
Kruger National Park is the primary destination for wildlife viewing in South Africa, offering the comforts of home in a vastly different environment— although visiting this park doesn’t give quite the same feeling of remote isolation (found in the other destinations included in this post). Smaller parks and private reserves also offer the chance to see plenty of big animals in a more intimate and less crowded atmosphere.
South Africa’s coast offers the potential for great beach excursions and epic whale and shark spotting. On top of that, you have the possibility of surfing and shopping detours when you’ve grown tired of staring at animals.
Where to stay: Sabi Sabi Selati Camp is a luxury lodge on a private reserve, while the Baluleni Lodge at Kruger National Park is a highly-rated, mid-range option. Budget sites such as the Crocodile Bridge Safari Lodge are also prevalent and amazing options for travelers on a tight dime.
When to visit: May through September is the best time to visit all of the parks.
Lion Country Safari (Florida, USA)
If Africa is just a bit further than you’re able to travel, consider a trip to Lion Country Safari, just outside of West Palm Beach, Florida. Part zoo and part safari, this little imported bit of Africa can be experienced via walk-through, drive-through or private tours. Hundreds of animals, boat rides, a mini waterpark, and a handful of amusement park rides are among the main attractions that are sure to entertain the whole family for the day (and at a fraction of the cost of an actual African safari).
Where to stay: West Palm Beach offers a wide array of lodging options from just about every familiar chain, to B&B, as well as vacation rentals, and resort options on the beach.
When to visit: November through February is the best time to beat the heat in Florida.
Are you inspired to plan an extraordinary safari vacation? Why not share your plans with fellow travelers on TripTogether? Get advice from their experience, or invite a travel buddy to join you on this once in a lifetime adventure!